Thursday, June 10, 2010

10 JUN 10: Change I Don't Believe In

If you saw a tent city of sorts along the riverfront in downtown Columbus Wednesday, don't worry -- they were participants in the Bike Ride Across Georgia. It was NOT a protest by homeless people, of conditions at the House of Mercy.

BLOGGER BEGGARS 3-4: I had to stop the car, because a stop sign is less than one block from my home. When I did the other night, a woman approached walking in the middle of the street. I've seen a lot of things in Columbus -- but I still haven't been part of a street-corner drug deal....

"What do you need?" I asked the woman after rolling down the passenger's side window a crack. Thankfully, it had nothing to do with crack.

"Some change, so I can get something to eat." The woman held what looked like a sandwich bag -- only the brown things inside appeared to be pennies. Shame on me for expecting pot.

Regular blog readers know I do NOT simply give beggars money. So I told the woman I had food in my trunk, if she would allow me to turn the corner and park. She accepted this - and did not seem offended by the fact that I didn't allow her inside the car. One woman I let inside years ago wound up exposing herself on Veterans Parkway.

The "beggar bags" of food were waiting in my trunk for this sort of situation. But when I opened the trunk and pulled one out, the trouble started.

"I can't eat that," the woman said -- not even knowing what was in the bag. Was she an unemployed psychic or something?

"What can you eat?" I asked the woman.

"Chicken." After my encounter with another beggar who preferred barbecue [3 Dec 09], all seemed right with the world again.

But I thought of this when preparing the first beggar bags two years ago. "These are chicken vienna sausages...."

"Nope," the woman answered. "I'm a diabetic, and been cut open four times." She started to offer to show me the incisions - but we were outside, and the sun was still shining.

I looked over the ingredients on the vienna sausage can, and noted they show no measurable amount of sugars. But the beggar insisted such food was bad for her diabetic condition. An online check later in the evening indicated she was telling the truth. But an iPhone could have been an instant lie detector.

"What should I have in these bags, that you can eat?" I asked the diabetic beggar.

"Chicken. Baked." And you thought children only had one-track minds when it comes to food.

The woman probably didn't grasp my beggar assistance system. "Something that will rot in a week, and I'll have to keep cycling out?!" I explained sometimes I go months without meeting a beggar, so I needed something that would keep in the trunk long-term.

The woman had to think for a few seconds about this. "Canned soup." She probably would prefer chicken noodle.

Now it was my turn for an admittedly-frustrated moment of quiet thinking. I was trying to get to a poker night at 8:00 p.m., yet had no food to help the woman at 7:40 p.m.. But I was close enough to home to make an offer. "I live right down there. I can try to find something you can eat."

"You're not going to give me any change?" If you've seen the prices at KFC lately, you know a few coins won't buy much chicken at all.

This was the time to explain the rest of my policy toward beggars. "If I give you money, you might use it for food. Or you might use it to buy alcohol or drugs, or who knows what?"

"I'm 56 years old," the woman answered - denying she'd do any such thing. But if age automatically produced wisdom, Charlie Sheen shouldn't have had his recent problems with the law.

The beggar then told me she wanted hot food. I explained I had a microwave oven, and could heat the food in the kitchen for her. This seemed acceptable, so I told the woman I've turn around and drive back home while she walked to my complex. Hmmm - complex is a fitting word for all this, isn't it?

I quickly turned around my car and returned to a parking spot in the apartment complex. But now the woman had disappeared. I started walking back told the spot where we chatted moments ago, and spotted her seemingly scavenging around the back of someone's home. I suppose chicken can bake in the sun, sitting on top of trash cans....

I pointed the woman toward where I live, and quickly walked to the front door. But when I got there, the woman urged me back to the middle of the street where she stood. "I'll wait until you get home from your meeting."

"I'm going to a poker tournament," I answered. "It might be half-an-hour. It might be more than two hours." And I might score a big-enough win to pick up a chicken dinner on the way home.

"Besides, I'll have to sit down to eat...." came the next excuse. I showed the woman several chairs sitting outside one end of the complex. They're normally used by retired men - not to devour cans of food, but Coors Light.

The beggar was out of excuses again, so she agreed to keep going toward the complex. I ran into the kitchen and found two microwave meal bowls in the pantry.

"You first two options," I said with bowls in hand when she reached the front porch, "are Beefaroni and chili." I had no way of knowing if a diabetic woman could eat these, either. Maybe food processors should mark the safe items with a large D - like Columbus workers do before demolishing buildings.

The Beefaroni was acceptable to the beggar, but she wanted to take it right then. "No," I reminded her. "What did you tell me? You had to have it HOT, and you had to be seated."

"I know a man with a stove," she answered. Trouble was, this was a microwave meal. No, I didn't think to ask why she didn't ask that man for food instead of me.

The microwave meal heated in less than a minute. But I admittedly violated the next part of the instructions which say, "Let stand one minute." The longer this woman stood outside my door, the stranger I feared things would become.

The beggar also wanted a large bag, so I found one from Captain D's which still happened to have an unopened utensil packet. I gave them to the woman with the paper towel-wrapped Beefaroni, and escorted her toward the outside chairs. After all my trouble and all her resistance, she was going to have....

"I could use something to drink, too." If she could see my beggar bag had unacceptable food, why couldn't she see the drink pouch with it?

I raced back to the car, and pulled out a juice pouch from one of the bags. It had no nutritional information, so the beggar had to guess whether or not it was acceptable for diabetics. She stared a moment, then seemingly decided to try it. Sometimes we all have to take a risk....

"Thank you," the woman said as she sat down with dinner - and I went back to the car and hurried off to poker night. She probably didn't expect or want me to go to all that trouble. She wanted me to simply throw coins out the window and drive away. But if a diabetic woman is walking in the street, begging for change to buy food - well, is this Columbus or Calcutta?

That woman actually was beggar #4 I've met in 2010. Beggar #3 came a few Saturday nights ago - a man sitting outside the door of KFC-Long John Silver's on Buena Vista Road. At least he was smart enough to place himself where the chicken is.

A man wearing thick glasses also needed money to get something to eat. "So you're waiting for me to come outside," I asked, "so I can give you the dinner I just bought and go home with nothing?"

No, this beggar was a bit more reasonable than that. He wanted to buy his own dinner - but instead, I pointed him to the car trunk for a beggar bag of food. He accepted it. But when I started the car moments later to drive home, I saw him taking it inside the restaurant. I meant the food to be for dinner tonight, not lunch tomorrow....

A KFC employee happened be standing near my car, and I explained to her what I had done and seen. She went in to check on him, and explained the beggar wanted something to drink with his food. A simple look inside the bag would have shown him the juice pouch - unless his glasses are years out of date.

"He probably just wanted the money," a woman in the car parked next to mine said. I agreed with her, but explained why I don't simply hand out money to anyone who asks. Isn't that how the home foreclosure bubble developed?

E-MAIL UPDATE: Only a few days remain to visit this display at the National Infantry Museum....

Don't let the traveling Viet Nam Memorial Wall leave without going out to see all 58,000 names..On the internet if you put in the key words "Viet Nam Wall" a search will come up where you can put in Columbus,GA.You will get the names of the of soldiers on the wall who listed Columbus as their hometown...The young soldiers who were guides were very polite and helpful in finding panels and lines..If you do go to the Wall website be sure to get the panel # and line #....Also,they have materials to do rubbings..

I visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington several years ago, and was struck by how small it is. The World War II memorial shown on TV looks larger by comparison -- apparently so much larger that people are willing to donate money for veterans to fly to Washington and look at it.

We had NO news or comments Wednesday about the Columbus Parks Department - and to be honest, I don't think I'm the only one ready for a break from that topic. So let's check what news actually happened....

+ Federal marshals arrested a Midland nurse on charges filed in Las Vegas. He's accused of intentionally infecting patients with a form of hepatitis. I never knew the hospitals in Las Vegas were as much of a gamble as the casinos.

+ Officials with the Boys and Girls Clubs told WTVM they'll have to expand their hours in August, to accommodate the changing hours of Muscogee County schools. Clubs will have to open for the afternoon one hour earlier - which sounds to me like a sneaky ploy to get a donation from WXTX.

+ Shaw High School Principal Jim Arnold resigned, to become superintendent of the Pelham, Georgia schools. I don't want to say Pelham is a slow Southern town - but the school district website suggests there hasn't been any news there in almost three months.

+ Instant Message to Michael Weaver of Columbus: Thanks for the snail mail you sent me. At first glance, I thought you were siding with retired reporter Helen Thomas - but then I read the page about deporting "arrogant Jews" TO Israel, not the other way around.

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